Guest Blog: Peter Lord's Pirates! Diary Part 2
Posted on Friday October 21, 2011, 15:54 by Peter Lord in Empire States
There’s only nine weeks shooting left on the Pirates! movie, so they tell me.
In some worlds nine weeks is a long time. In our world of animation, it seems like nothing, the blink of an eye. The end of the shoot is alarmingly close.
It’s not terribly easy to explain what ‘shooting’ means in the world of stop-motion – not without pictures at any rate – but I’ll give it a try.
You know that the Pirates! is stop-motion, right? Some call it model animation, some call it puppet animation (I still call it 3D animation – because it is!). Anyway, the characters are all armatured puppets with sophisticated metal skeletons inside them. The animators place the puppet in a pose, then record an image, a single ‘frame’. That frame will be onscreen for one twenty-fourth of a second. The animator moves the puppet slightly into its next position and takes another frame. That’s another twenty-fourth of a second. Then another move, another frame. And so on.
True, it's labour-intensive – but, hey. Somebody’s got to do it.
Anyways, that’s not what I’m here to blog about. Each animator works on a ‘unit’, which is basically a miniature film-set, and that’s the distinctive thing about stop-motion animation. It’s basically traditional film-making on a small scale. Our actors are small – maybe 30 cms high – but they stand on real, tangible sets, and every set needs actors and also scenery, props, camera, lights, camera-dolly: the works.
Now our lead actor, the Pirate Captain, is voiced by Hugh Grant. He is, of course, unique; there’s only one Hugh. But there are maybe 30 or more copies of the Pirate Captain, and that means that at any one time, he may be appearing in twenty scenes or more simultaneously. Twenty different animators, with different personalities and skills, strengths and weaknesses, all pool their energies to make what will look like a single performance on the screen.
It’s an amazing testimony to their skill and professionalism that it will indeed look like one seamless performance in the end.
So with 30- 40 units at any one time, our studio actually looks like a whole studio complex. I walk down long corridors between units, and then duck in through a black lightproof screen, to discover in each unit a fabulous miniature world. Each one is beautifully designed, lit and art-directed. In one unit is the Captain’s cabin, full of his souvenirs. In another, the interior of an English castle, all towering arches, shafts of light and suits of armour. In a third is the deck of the ship at sea, gently rolling with the waves (in stop motion of course). Some are tiny: a corner of a room only a metre square. But some seem huge, like our set of the quayside at Blood Island, tens of metres across.
As I travel round the studio doing all those things directors do (another blog in itself) I feel as if I’m at a gallery of wonders. Or possibly in Aladdin’s cave. Or possibly in a miniature Disneyland. But whatever it’s like, one thing’s for sure, it’s a beautiful and beautifully created world.